AFTER THREE and a half years, two general elections, two prime ministers and two different withdrawal agreements, the UK will be leaving the European Union next week.

Following over a year of controversy and uncertainty, the Brexit bill passed through the House of Lords earlier this week, meaning that January 31 will be the official date that we leave the EU.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson renegotiated Theresa May’s deal shortly after he took over as PM, and after Parliament voted against the time scale for implementing his bill before Halloween last year, he called a general election, eventually winning a massive majority and seeing his vote easily pass through the Commons.

But what will this actually mean? Well until the end of the year, not a lot.

Transition period

A transition period – which the government like to call an “implementation” period – will end at the end of December. During that time period, the UK will still abide by EU laws, as well as being a member of the single market and customs union, but will not take their seats in the European Parliament.

This is while a future trading agreement and future arrangements are discussed. However, it is debated whether this will be able to be done in time – a similar trade agreement between the EU and Canada took more than ten years from first discussions to ratification.

Opponents say that this will leave the country facing a cliff-edge at the end of the year, although there will be some protection on things like Northern Ireland trade, citizens’ rights and the so-called “divorce bill”.

The Institute for Government, an independent think tank, say that it will be hard to negotiate this by the end of the year. They said: “This is a huge task, particularly considering the 11-month time frame the government has to negotiate and implement a new deal.

“It is likely the UK will be only partially ready by the end of December 2020.”

Can I still travel to the EU?

Until the end of the transition period, travel between the UK and the 27 EU countries will remain pretty much the same. The government are advising all British citizens to make sure that their passport has at least six months left after the date of travel, and is younger than ten years old.

They also say that there are currently no plans to bring in the need for visas for short trips. However, after December 2020, it’s currently unknown what the travel arrangements will be.

What will happen at the end of December 2020

Much of the government’s attention for the rest of the year will be on discussions over the future trading agreement with the bloc. The manifesto from the Conservative party in last month’s general election suggested there would be a loose free trade arrangement – meaning we would no longer be part of the single market or the customs union.

If no deal is reached, the UK will trade on WTO terms with the EU, and would rely on previous security conventions. However, Northern Ireland is protected by provisions in the protocol negotiated in the withdrawal agreement.